The July 16 Magazine cover story about U.S.-Israeli relations misstated the names of two organizations: The PAC founded by Morris Amitay is the Washington Political Action Committee, and CAMERA stands for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. The article also incorrectly said that historian Michael Oren received his PhD from Hebrew University in Jerusalem; it was actually Princeton University in New Jersey.
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A Beautiful Friendship?
Shamir and his aides derided American Jews as timid, even gutless. But Israeli voters blamed him for overplaying his hand. The following year he lost his bid for reelection to the more dovish Yitzhak Rabin. Bush paid a price as well. He got crushed in a small group of heavily Jewish precincts in states such as New York, New Jersey, Ohio and Florida in his November 1992 election loss to Bill Clinton.
When Rabin came to Washington for the first time as prime minister, he summoned AIPAC's leaders to a closed-door meeting at the Madison Hotel in which he accused them of steering Israel into a needless confrontation with the White House. From now on, he told them, Israel would drive its own relations with Washington, and AIPAC would be consigned to a back seat.
The organization's leaders learned an important lesson. "After that they adopted the Colin Powell doctrine," says Ori Nir, a veteran journalist for the Jewish Forward. "They only fought the battles that they knew they could win."
"WELCOME TO THE HEART OF THE EMPIRE," DECLARES JOSH BLOCK, director of media affairs, rolling his eyes as he ushers me into AIPAC's bustling and disheveled headquarters on First Street NW.
There's nothing very imperial about Block, a cheerful thirtysomething veteran of Democratic Party election campaigns whose wife has just given birth to their first child. Nor about his office, whose window overlooks the Washington Monument -- but also a parking lot dominated by a refuse container crammed with discarded sofas outside the D.C. Central Kitchen, a feeding center for the homeless.
The place is a typical Washington-style lobbying and public affairs shop, a warren of small offices and windowless conference rooms spread over two floors, with photocopiers, industrial-type metal bookshelves, sagging gray sofas, institutional brown carpet and drab yellow walls. The air-conditioning system seems less than robust on a steamy June afternoon. AIPAC has plans to move to a slightly grander building up the street next year.
A delegation of Japanese businessmen once took a tour, says Block, and at the end one of them turned to his guide with a polite smile and asked, "Okay, could you now show us where the real headquarters are?"
There's nothing to hide. AIPAC's size, strength and agenda are all public information, much of it displayed on its Web site: the staff of 200 lobbyists, researchers and organizers; the $47 million annual budget; the 100,000 grass-roots members, almost double the number of five years ago; and the recruitment drive on 300 college campuses.
AIPAC in recent years has parted with some of the staff members who gave it a harder edge, foremost among them Steve Rosen, its former director of foreign policy issues. Rosen and a fellow staff member, Keith Weissman, were fired last year after they were indicted under the 1917 Espionage Act for allegedly receiving classified information about administration strategy on Iran from Lawrence Franklin, the Pentagon's Iran desk officer. Their trial is scheduled for later this summer.
Lawyers for Rosen and Weissman contend their clients did only what journalists and analysts do every day in Washington -- gather information. Maybe so, but what's really intriguing for our purposes is how this little scandal came about. It wasn't Rosen and Weissman pursuing Franklin; it was Franklin seeking them out to make an end run around his superiors, who didn't share Franklin's view that the White House should crack down harder on Iran's developing nuclear program. Franklin believed enlisting AIPAC's help was the best way to ensure that his message got delivered to the White House.
These days AIPAC's staff is a mix of hired guns and true believers known for their expertise. Take Brad Gordon, co-director of policy and government affairs. Gordon, among other things a former congressional aide and CIA analyst, is a compact man with a clipped mustache, graying hair and a résumé longer than the menu at the Bombay Club, where we meet for lunch. At AIPAC he's in charge of overseeing all legislation. He appears to be careful, modest, self-confident and authoritative about the system and his role. "We have a fairly sophisticated understanding of what's doable and what's not," he tells me. "And we work in the world of the doable."
For overstretched members of Congress and their staffs, who don't have the time or resources to master every subject in their domain, AIPAC makes itself an essential tool. It briefs. It lobbies. It organizes frequent seminars on subjects such as terrorism, Islamic militarism and nuclear proliferation. It brings experts to the Hill from think tanks in Washington and Tel Aviv. It provides research papers and offers advice on drafting legislation on foreign affairs, including the annual foreign aid bill. And behind it is a vast network of grass-roots activists in each House district who make a point of visiting individual members of Congress, inviting them to social events and contributing to their reelection campaigns.